Shedding light on cancer: use of AI and blockchain to improve cancer screening

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

The fight against cancer takes many forms. Advancements in medtech have created cheaper and more effective solutions for screening, diagnosing and combating cancer. One of the latest developments is the use of white light and a device that only weighs about 5 kilograms.

5 kg is about as heavy as a gallon of paint. Or your average domestic cat. It’s size and weight plays an impressive part in Lancor Scientific’s mission: to make effective cancer screening available to everyone, everywhere.

First, a little context. And science. 

The link between the condition of tissue and its magnetic profile is a clear one. It has been known for decades that when tissue progresses through cancer, the magnetic profile of the cells change. Healthy tissue demonstrates a diamagnetic profile, whereas malignant tissue demonstrates a paramagnetic profile; the more advanced the cancer, the stronger the paramagnetic signal.

Magnetic force microscopes (MFMs) and atomic force microscopes (AFMs) can determine the magnetic profile of tissue and therefore determine the presence and stage of cancer.

This is well-known science. However, although these machines are excellent tools, they cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and are too large to be useful for cancer screening. 

Transporting it for a house visit, or even transporting one to your local doctor’s office is out of the question. Even if a clinic or doctor’s office had the funds, it would be a logistical nightmare.  

However, the world has seen huge technological advancement over the past 50 years. It is now hard to imagine carrying one of the original mobile phones of the 1980s. Yet to the business men and women of yesteryear, carrying around a huge device was the norm. It was seen as convenient. Since then, mobile phones have not only become truly handheld but have obscenely impressive functionality. In such a case, smaller is often better. (Ironically though, mobiles seem to be getting bigger again…)

Making a global difference

I want to argue that it is functionality in cancer screening devices together with the ability to target those most at risk of developing cancer that will make a global difference. Early detection of cancer is key to increasing the chances of survival. Most cancers are detected once symptoms arrive, and by then, treatment becomes a lot more expensive and less effective. However, if cancer screening was made more efficient and readily available, cancers would be caught early improving the quality of life, and there is abundant evidence from current screening programmes running in developed countries to support this; early cancer detection saves life and lowers the cost burden to tax payer.

A UK-based medtech start-up is doing exactly just that. Lancor Scientific uses white light inside a small, 5kg device to look for the same magnetic fingerprint as do MFMs and AFMs, thus detecting the presence of pre-cancer, cancer and the stage it is at. It’s the first device to take advantage of the interaction of visible light with valence electrons and molecular bonding at the quantum level. Put simply, when white light is shone onto a material - human tissue in this case - the magnetic component of the reflected light from the tissue can determine how malignant it is. The device can offer that result in a few clicks within 30 seconds. The process deploys magnetic imaging – thus called Opto-magnetic Imaging Spectroscopy (OMIS).

The fact it only uses visible light means it doesn’t subject the tissue to potentially harmful ultraviolet, X-ray or microwave radiation. It can be operated by anyone who can is trained to collect tissue samples and the results are displayed on-screen to the medical specialist to determine the best follow-on care pathway as necessary.

Take cervical cancer screening, for example. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women with an estimated 570,000 new cases in 2018 representing 6.6 per cent of all female cancers. The fact that cervical cancer takes many years to develop indicates that mortality rates can be significantly decreased with early detection.

Huge benefits

Papanicolau (Pap) testing is a good screening tool for cervical cancer, where there is sufficient cytopathology resource to be able to interpret microscope slides. An improvement was the Liquid-Based Cytology (LBC) test, which requires even more infrastructure than PAP testing, but offers fewer false results. When used in conjunction with Human Papiloma Virus (HPV) screening, known as co-testing, it is even better, since 99.7 per cent of cervical cancers are associated with a HPV virus.

Even then, these tests can give false results as much as one quarter of the time, offering space for improvement. Extensive tests have shown OMIS to operate at 90 per cent accuracy. That’s before their latest AI has been integrated, which is aiming to remove the biological “noise” from samples – aiming to push the accuracy to over 95 per cent into the diagnostic realm. 

The real-world benefits of this technology are huge. For a start, obviously, it can be moved easily. To move an MFM or AFM you would probably need a van. And the fact that the OMIS device can produce a result in near real time means there is a lot less waiting for results, significantly decreasing the amount of admin, and stress to patients.

Lancor Scientific is developing a global blockchain-based cancer registry that directly connects to the device and puts the patient at the centre of their data ownership. When a patient uses the Lancor Scientific’s “Medici” tokens as payment for a cancer screening test, a smart contract is generated. This guarantees that the user is properly authenticated and that the device being used is genuine.

Once the test is complete, the results are stored and the user can grant permissions to the clinician and other third parties to view the results through the smart contract. This eliminates ownership and security issues, which are present in current centralised healthcare databases.

What can you do with 5kg of tech?

Instead of booking a session and waiting for an hour at your local hospital, the device could be brought closer to you, or to you directly. A luxury for us, but a necessity for places such as in India and parts of Africa where, in some cases, a local hospital simply doesn’t exist. In short, the device can move to the places in the world it is needed the most. 

Its portability and ease is complemented by the cost of use. OMIS lowers the cost compared to current Pap and LBC tests significantly, making it a feasible option for many developing parts of the world.

The size of the device also allows for commercial use. Much like some high street supermarkets have opticians, it is very possible to also have cancer screening facilities with an OMIS device – as it doesn’t require a lot of space or manpower in order to house and operate it.  

Cancer is a scary subject; it always has been and always will be. The long processes involved and uncertain results can put people off getting tested. However, when effective screening options become available, it will hopefully encourage people to confront it earlier.

Not bad, for 5kg of tech.  

Aamir Butt, CEO, Lancor Scientific
Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy